The Human Division #7: The Dog King, John Scalzi

The Human Division #7: The Dog King, John Scalzi

The Human Division #7: The Dog King, John Scalzi

Back to the A plot for this this week’s episode of The Human Division, “The Dog King”.

Except it doesn’t really feel like much of an A plot story. The set up is fairly simple: Harry Wilson gets sent on yet another diplomatic mission, this time for a spot of dogsitting while the ambassador tries to negotiate a peaceful end to a multi-century long civil war.

While Harry’s watching the dog there are, of course, complications. This time in the form of a giant carnivorous plant and an underground cave system–which, of course, holds the clue to what happened to the Icheloe’s missing king.

There are some new bits of information but not a whole lot and I honestly am having a hard time seeing how this fits in with the rest of the story so far. It doesn’t really seem to fit–unless the Icheloe have a larger role to come, of course. Which they might. I guess we’ll see.

This was pretty entertaining and I think that if I weren’t expecting to see more explicit movement in the main plot that I’d be really happy with it–so part of my dissatisfaction is definitely with me and not with the text (wow, it’s really freeing to be able to say that). The story is definitely well-written and enjoyable on its own, it just doesn’t seem to be lifting its weight in the overall story arc unless there’s something really subtle going on that I’m missing.

Things I liked about the story: the giant carnivorous plants, the gardener and his completely inappropriate curiosity–it was very Gregor Vorbarra-ish in its “let’s see what happens”-ness, and Tuffy the dog. I liked the not fully explored caverns under the planet and I liked the way they played a critical role in the plot. I liked the way Wilson and company try so very hard not to offend their hosts.

So to sum up: amusing short story, unsure how this fits into the bigger picture. And at the halfway point, I would have expected to see something more substantive here.

I’m definitely going to have to re-read the whole novel after all the parts have been published.

Lennier has a hard head, just like Harry Wilson

Lennier has a hard head.
Just like Harry Wilson.

The Human Division #5: Tales from the Clarke, John Scalzi

The Human Division #5: Tales from the Clarke, John Scalzi

The Human Division #5: Tales from the Clarke, John Scalzi

The fifth episode of The Human Division, “Tales from the Clarke takes us back out to what I’m now thinking of as the A plot and gives me, the reader, that little bit of forward momentum I needed–the CDF finally comes out and says that they know that someone’s got a cunning plan and that they’re trying to figure it out.

Captain Coloma of the Clarke has been relieved of duty as the decision has been made to scrap the ship.  And instead, they have this crappy old ship they want her to have–just temporarily, of course, as they’re selling it to a bunch of Earthlings at a good price as a goodwill gesture. Coloma feels like sharing the misery, so she decides that Harry Wilson can come along as well.

I kind of sort of totally love this wreck of a ship they’re given. It’s so old that parts haven’t been made in at least a decade and it’s terrifically inefficient. The hardware is too old to run the latest software so their engineer has to create a virtual machine in his PDA to upgrade it.

It’s just like where I work! Except I don’t work on a spaceship but at a manufacturing facility where both these problems are something that my co-workers deal with on a daily basis (I am the person yelling at them for overrunning their budgets). So I don’t know who Scalzi’s been talking to about this stuff, but he’s got this part absolutely dead on right–if there’s any way a capital budget can be safely cut, it will be. Which is cynical, but that’s what 10 years at my job tells me. Bubble gum and duct tape and maybe a little bit of string.

Anyhow. I really enjoyed this–I enjoyed the interactions between Harry and Coloma, I liked the contrast between new and old tech, I liked the sleuthing, I like that we’re starting to see thing coalesce a bit more, and I really liked the bits about the Cubs. This episode worked a lot better for me than last week’s did, that’s for sure.

And this is sort of what Coloma looks like in my head now. FOR REASONS.

Ivanova is Suspicious

Ivanova is Suspicious

Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi

The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi

The Human Division #2: Walk the Plank, John Scalzi

“Walk the Plank”, the second installment of John Scalzi’s The Human Division serial is short.

The amount of story that’s jammed into this piece, especially considering that not only is it short, it’s also all dialogue, is pretty incredible.

Consequently, this post is overflowing with spoilers. Enter if you dare.

The wildcat colony of New Seattle is expecting a shipment of supplies from a ship, the Erie Morningstar. Those supplies never appear. Instead, they get what they initially think is a stowaway.

Malik Damanis is seriously injured and may be infected with something called the Rot. He’s in a tremendous amount of pain but with supplies running low, the colonists are only able to give him the barest amount of palliative care–and they won’t know for sure that he has the Rot until his blood test results come back.

The colony’s administrator, Chenzira El-Masri is a total hard-ass–and has to be. As a wildcat colony, New Seattle gets no support from the Colonial Defense Forces (CDF) and is wholly reliant on whatever supplies they can procure from merchant ships–so when their supplies don’t show up their very existence is endangered.

That’s the set-up–but there’s way more information to be had in this story. Damanis tells a tale of the Erie Morningstar being boarded by mysterious people in black, a good number of the bridge crew being killed, and the remaining crew shoved into cargo containers and pushed out of the ship–the walking the plank of the title.

There’s also an impossible decision to be made at the end. While horrifying to contemplate, when put into the context of what the colony is dealing with around limited resources, the decision is unavoidable.

What does this tell us about the overall story? It tells us that there are colonies out there that are unsupported by the CDF–and that they’re on worlds with ecologies that are actively detrimental to human life and that the infrastructure to support these colonies is precarious enough that a single disruption to supply drops may be enough to doom them.  It tells us that there is some organization out there–presumably the same one from the first episode–that knows about not only military transport schedules but commercial ones, too. And they are well-financed and able to interfere in potentially catastrophic ways, as well. This all implies a far-ranging plan–although to what ends are still a complete mystery at this point.

So. While this segment does stand alone, it works better taken in context with the first installment even though the setting and characters and even the tone have very little in common with “The B-Team”. It moves the story forward and does so in an economical and extremely well-constructed way that gives the reader just enough to hold them over until next week’s episode.

Human Division #1: The B-Team, John Scalzi

The Human Division #1: The B-Team, John Scalzi

The Human Division #1: The B-Team, John Scalzi

The first part of John Scalzi’s serial novel, The Human Division came out yesterday. It’s called “The B-Team” and comes in at about 22,000 words–a short novella. There are a total of thirteen parts and they’ll be out every week between now and mid-April. It’s an interesting experiment and one, I think, that is well-suited to Scalzi’s strengths as a writer (specifically his ability to tell fast paced and episodic stories in a way that’s engaging and entertaining). The episodes are priced at 99-cents each and will be compiled into one digital volume (and paper volume) in mid-May for what I assume will be the usual price for Tor hardbacks–so buying the episodes individually will probably cost about the same as the ebook.

Normally I write up my own summaries, but the day job has been a bit stressful and I’ve been sick so I’m totally going to steal this week’s from the publisher because it really says everything that I would in a way that’s about a million times more concise than I’d manage. Or something.

Colonial Union Ambassador Ode Abumwe and her team are used to life on the lower end of the diplomatic ladder. But when a high-profile diplomat goes missing, Abumwe and her team are last minute replacements on a mission critical to the Colonial Union’s future. As the team works to pull off their task, CDF Lieutenant Harry Wilson discovers there’s more to the story of the missing diplomats than anyone expected…a secret that could spell war for humanity.

So anyhow. This is a lot of fun–it is definitely self-contained, but it’s also doing two other things: setting up the other 12 episodes as well as inclue-ing readers into what exactly is going on here. It’s been several years since I’ve read anything set in the Old Man’s War universe and while I enjoyed them tremendously I have generally had other things to reread when I’ve been in the mood for re-reading. So the amount of exposition was just about perfect–got me back up to speed on what had happened in The Last Colony and helped lay the land (space) for what happens next.

Well, practically first up is an extended bodily excretion joke because it wouldn’t be a book by John Scalzi without at least one of those, but after that the smart-assery is mostly limited to Harry Wilson, the Scalzilogue in this particular story (each Scalzi book seems to have it’s own Scalzi stand-in–a Scalzilogue! you heard it here first!). I feel it’s important to mention this because it’s a stylistic quirk that either works for the reader or doesn’t.

Then we get into the nitty-gritty of the story and it is delightfully twisty-turny in a way that I suspect long-time fans of space opera will see coming a mile away but which goes a long way to setting up the conflict in this serial and which will, I think provide lots of plot for Scalzi to mine. There’s quite a bit of handwavium around faster-than-light travel as well as materials engineering of the future, but it more or less holds together and I didn’t find it very distracting, even though a big chunk of the plot totally hinges on futuristic materials engineering. And a completely insane spacewalk.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where this goes, both in terms of the episodic structure as well as the overall structure of the story. This was a lot of fun to read and, I expect, it was a lot of fun to write as well.